Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vulnerable Democrats in 2010--Where Should We Look???

Yesterday, John and I attended a CQ-Roll Call hosted event on the 2010 elections. Billed as a preview of what might lie ahead, the event featured three pollsters (representing Quinnipiac, Public Policy Polling, and Rasmussen) plus CQ Roll Call's Greg Giroux. Given that you had three pollsters present, the analysis was derived heavily from recent polling both nationwide and in a number of key states. In this sense, I would have liked to seen some analysis that took a broader, more demographic and historical perspective rather than one dominated by the snap shots of polls, but given the panel's composition the numbers presented were very much geared toward the present landscape. Nonetheless, there were some interesting insights.

The main takeaway from all the presentations is that the current environment is quite perilous for Democrats. With independents showing a greater predilection to support Republicans (not out of an underlying movement ideologically to the right but out of dissatisfaction with the status quo) and Democrats displaying complacency (despite giving President Obama consistently high marks), you not only get the results that we saw a few weeks back in New Jersey and Virginia, you also have the recipe for large GOP gains next fall.

On the congressional side, one caveat stressed by Giroux, and one that I hinted at a few months back, is that the Democrats don't appear as if they'll have to defend a large number of open seats. Unlike in 1994 where Republicans picked up the vast majority of seats created by Democratic retirements, only a small handfull of Democratic seats, to this point, are being vacated (and even fewer of those are in truly competitive districts). Thus, Republicans appear headed into an election year in which they must hope (against longstanding historical norms) to knock off a significant number of incumbents.

So where might we look for fertile GOP hunting grounds??? Here, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling made a useful insight. He suggested that we look to parts of the country 1) in which GOP performance has increased, that are 2) currently represented by Democratic House members who 3) haven't had highly competitive races recently. These members might not be prepared for an anti-incumbent or anti-Democratic wave and might also be out of campaign fighting shape. When he mentioned this, I immediately thought of the map below, which I highlighted in the aftermath of the Obama/McCain campaign. The map chronicles change between the 2004 and 2008 election. Counties that became more Democratic in 2008 are shaded blue (with increasing darkness based on magnitude of change) while those shaded red became more Republican (also with increasing darkness based on magnitude). Thus, the vast majority of the counties in the U.S. gave Obama more support than Kerry.

In his remarks, Jensen talked quite a bit about some recently released polling from Arkansas. In it, Democratic incumbent Vic Snyder (2nd District) has seen his numbers crater as has Senator Blanche Lincoln. Snyder, especially, has had little challenge recently in his Little Rock based district. As we see from the map, Snyder (and Arkansas more broadly) fall into the band of counties that broke from the national trend and actually became more Republican last year. Similarly, if we extend our gaze northeastward we see how Tennessee counties also moved right. This brings to mind another handful of Democratic members, namely a cadre of blue dog Volunteer State Dems including Congressmen Lincoln Davis, Bart Gordon, and John Tanner who represent the 4th, 6th, and 8th districts respectively. A look at these gentlemen's recent elections show that they've been quite secure. Tanner has been the most insulated from a serious challenge. He was unopposed last year and received 73% and 74% in 2006 and 2004. Gordon's last three victories have come with 74%, 67%, and 64%. Davis has had closer races, winning with 59%, 66%, and 55%. A potential clue to their own sense of vulnerability might be gleaned from the much discussed (see previous two posts) health care vote from two weeks ago. In it, all three voted against passage.

Keep these two maps in mind as we continue through the health care debate and into next year's mid-terms.


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